The Importance of Professional References

The Importance of Professional References

Some of your biggest assets when going through the hiring process are strong, professional references who will vouch for your skills, experiences and work ethic to recruiters and potential employers. A good, strong reference can do wonders to help supplement your resume and help give future employers an idea of what kind of an employee you’ll be. In the marketing world we call this “word of mouth” and it’s known to be one of the most effective (and trusted) methods of promoting yourself. However, as much as a good reference can help you, a bad reference has the same power to end the possibility that a firm would choose to employ you. When putting together a list of references, there are several thing you can do to help make sure that your references are going to help you, not hinder you, in your job search.

A good practice is to have at least three strong, professional references for a recruiter or HR representative to contact.

Who should you ask for a reference?

Sometimes getting a reference can be a tedious task, but one of the best ways to start off is to figure out the right people to ask for references. Former bosses, co-workers, clients and colleagues all make good references, although depending on the position you’re applying for more weight may be given to references from colleagues in managerial positions.

What is the best way to ask for a reference?

More often than not, you will be asking for a reference when you are leaving a firm. Unfortunately, asking for a reference in those situations can sometimes feel a little awkward, even though it doesn’t need to if you’re confident in your abilities and your supervisor’s opinion of you. Having said that, there are a couple of things you shouldn’t do when asking for a reference. For instance, don’t just walk up to your reference of choice and say, “Could you write a letter of reference for me?” Anyone can write a letter of reference, but putting them in that position means that you may end up with someone writing you a reference (just to avoid having to tell you no) even though they don’t have the strongest opinion of you. If that happens (and you don’t realize it) then one of those references may give you a poor phone reference if they’re contacted later. It’s a better option to ask a supervisor, “Do you feel you could give me a good reference?” if the answer is yes, then you can feel confident about what they will saying during a phone interview. If the answer is no, then at least you’ve avoided having a bad reference to potentially damage your ability to find a job in the future.

Tips for getting the most out of your professional references:

  1. Keep your references up to date. Let them know where you are in the job search process and who may be contacting them.
  2. Maintain your network while working. It’s important to stay in touch you’re your references even if you’re not looking for a job. This helps you maintain strong relationships with them.
  3. Request permission every time you are planning on using someone as a reference. You don’t want to risk surprising a reference, or finding out the hard way that their opinion of you has changed, to avoid that, make sure that you check with your references every time you plan on using them to ensure they are still willing and able to help you out.
  4. Request a reference letter. This is a good way to ensure that your references stay in tact even if a reference isn’t available for contact later.
  5. Make sure you feel confident in the references’ opinions of you. It’s very important to have a good idea of what your references are going to say about your background and your performance. It’s perfectly acceptable to use references other than your employer if you think that they will portray you in a better light.
  6. Think about how your references portray themselves. Professional references are more than just people who will say good things about you. They are also people who will earn respect from the recruiter or HR representative who is doing your reference check. Choosing an inarticulate buddy as a reference just because they really like you, won’t necessarily make the best impression on a potential employer or recruiter.
  7. Make sure that your reference will be willing and able to answer common reference check questions. Questions, like the ones listed below, are fairly standard during a reference check and are another reason why it’s a good idea to inform references that they will be contacted: so that they have plenty of time to prepare the right (and best) answers, especially if they have been out of touch with you for a longer period of time.
  • When did (applicant) work for your company? Could you confirm starting and ending employment dates?
  • Why did (applicant) leave the company?
  • What was the applicant’s position? Can you describe their job responsibilities?
  • Did (applicant) miss a lot of work? Were they frequently late?
  • Did s/he get along well with management and colleagues?
  • Was (applicant) promoted while with your company?
  • Did (applicant) supervise other employees? How effectively? If I spoke to those employees, how do you think they would describe (name’s) management style?
  • How did (applicant) handle conflict/pressure and/or stress?
  • Did you evaluate (applicant’s) performance? Can you speak totheir strong and weak points?
  • Would you rehire (applicant) if the opportunity arose?
  • If I describe the position we are hiring for to you, could you tell us whether you think (applicant) would be a good fit for the position?
  • How does (applicant) work as a member of a team?
  • Is there anything else that you would like to share with me?

What should you do if you don’t have strong professional references?

Sometimes, if you haven’t had a perfect work history in the past, you won’t feel like you have enough good, professional references to help you in your job search. In that case a good option is to use personal references to bolster your candidacy by providing powerful recommendations about your character. These references could come from business acquaintances, classmates, professors or family friends, anyone who will vouch for your character without besmirching your professional capabilities.

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